Though revisited from the initial snapper case release from August 2000 among Warner Bros' September 2004 Hitchcock wave, "North By Northwest" still remains a benchmark in DVD mastering. The matte colour palette of the film's VistaVision photography tended to look a bit washed out in surviving 35mm prints, but the digital cleanup really makes the film glow without affecting colour balance and gray/black levels. Considered a reference disc by some reviewers, it's rather fitting this historical film is a high standard for those seeking optimum picture quality for their home theatre systems.
The sound mix is also a good arrangement of the surviving audio stems, particularly Bernard Herrmann's sublime score. Using a maniacal fandango over MGM's roaring logo, the score's unrelenting drive frequently booms through the discreet Dolby 5.1 mix; Herrmann's gentle (and tongue-in-cheek) love theme and eddying string passages also resonate with pretty good clarity. (The original music stems weren't all in the best of shape, but the rescue effort manages to preserve the score's power and delicious wit in the revised mix. Though Rhino's soundtrack CD offers unused and alternate cues, the DVD's music-only track gives viewers the chance to experience the film in a whole new light.)
Herrmann is actually credited by screenwriter Ernest Lehman for suggesting a collaboration between himself, a self-described Hitchcock fan, and the director. Most of Lehman's commentary is very slow and spotty and should have been edited into thematic paragraphs with scene-specific index points, but the track was admittedly recorded during DVD's relatively early days.
Lehman revisits some of the topics discussed by himself in the lengthy featurette, but overall fans should glean some excellent anecdotes about the script's genesis ("the ultimate Hitchcock film," according to Lehman), and the research that took the writer across the United States before finally sitting down and hammering out sixtypages of gold.
As furthered in the featurette, those sixty pages won over the director, and the production came together while Hitchcock was struggling to figure out "The Wreck of the Mary Deare," his second and unfulfilled commitment for MGM. Hosted by Eva Marie Saint, the featurette follows the film's production across the continental U.S. with generous stills, brief interviews with actor Martin Landau, and Lehman addressing the jealous male interplay between Landau and sleek James Mason.
The featurette covers a lot of ground, though veteran DVD fans will find the pacing less hurried and visually hyper than more contemporary installments; the fact Saint is allowed to walk and talk at her own pace is oddly rare, since most featurettes are frequently tailored from five to twenty-second soundbites.
The disc's archives also include an alternate trailer, with Hitchcock playing travel host before scenes from the archived standard theatrical trailer. A still gallery also captures forty-four vintage production images, poster art, and stills from recent interviews for the DVD's featurette.
This Warner Bros title is available separately or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection that includes: Strangers On A Train, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Suspicion, North By Northwest, Dial M For Murder, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, Stage Fright and I Confess.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan